Thursday, November 03, 2005

"In Heaven"

I like watching pendulums (pendula, whatever). As I sit here I am watching the stately beat of the pendulum of our 1915 neo-Gothic grandfather's clock, and the slightly faster pendulum of an old regulator wall clock. However, I do not like being on a pendulum, whether an amusement park ride or a theological trend. It makes my head swim. I want to puke.

I do not believe truth is itself dialectical, though we often go at it as though it were. In the church, if we feel that there is a trend or a popular notion that is in error or insufficient, we tend to counter it by taking a stand that is just as far from the truth, but in the opposite direction. We justify this behavior as a type of balancing, and it often "works" in the sense that the mass of believers will come to be distributed between the two extremes and hence be "closer" to the truth. Problem is, this method requires distortion or overstatement, both of which are in themselves lies even if the effect is to temper an opposing error or lie.

For example, I have often heard it said at missions conferences that, "God has no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet, no mouth but our mouths." Now, I understand the purpose of this saying, but it just ain't so! Some hearers will accept it as true, distorting their understanding of God's sovereignty and his great commission.

Lately, I have been hearing two ideas that are being stated as if they were established truth, but seem to be really counterweights offered against popular ideas that are perceived as unbalanced. One is monism or physicalism with respect to the nature of man, offered against a naive body-spirit dualism that is believed to lead to pietism or gnosticism. The other is the idea that there is no heaven-as-reward taught in the scriptures, which is offered to balance a perceived overemphasis on the afterlife to the neglect of this world in this life. I have heard it said, "The Bible doesn't teach that believers go to heaven when they die." Or, more carefully perhaps, "The Bible doesn't call us to seek heaven as a reward, but rather to seek God's kingdom on earth." This latter is subtle. It creates a tension, an opposition, between seeking rewards in heaven and seeking the penetration of God's kingdom on earth. Jesus seems to know nothing about this tension, and urged both explicitly.

The link above will take you to a list of all the verses containing the phrase, "in heaven." With regard to this issue,check out the verses from the New Testament, near the end of the list.


  1. I got your e-mail a while back about this blog, and this is the first time I've really visited and read it.

    I'm curious...were these things that Jeff, the tech at work, said in a conversation you had? He said that you two had talked some, and I was just wondering if that's what he had said to you too. He said things along both of those lines when he talked to me, especially about how Earth would be the normal believer's heaven. Heaven in the sense of God's dwelling place would be for those who earned it, yet he pressed it upon me very much that it had absolutely nothing to do with working for God. I'm not sure I understand how you can hold that belief very well. Oh, and....hi! : )

  2. Hi John,
    No, Jeff and I have never spoken about this, or any other theological issue. I suspect that two-tiered reward (earth for unremarkable believers and heaven for 144,000 great saints) is a Jehovah's Witness doctrine.